Thursday, 10 February 2011


As if you couldn't tell from my fairy tale piece earlier, I love Disney. And as much as I value Pixar and all the delights it has given me over the years (Finding Nemo, Monsters Inc, Up) I was thrilled when John Lasseter moved back over to the  magical castle and announced Disney was going back to its roots. The first baby of this was last year's The Princess and The Frog, which though very new in some ways felt like a classic Disney picture. I liked it a great deal, but have not felt the urge to revisit it. The next arrival is Tangled, Disney's first outing in 3D, and whilst this is a trendy and forgettable feature, the film is absolutely not.

Once named 'Rapunzel' but re-branded as Tangled to attract the boys (I don't know why, it's full on cute) the story has been eked out from the original Brothers Grimm tale into a tight, well constructed plot that balances the action with the romance. Rapunzel is born a princess to a King and Queen, and blessed with magical golden hair thanks to a flower remedy which helped to cure her mother when she was sick. But the flower had been the possession of a wicked old lady called Mother Gothel (I feel I need to write the blurb in the style of a children's bedtime story...), who used the powers to keep her immortally young. Now with no source for her vanity she steals the child and imprisons her in a heavily veiled tower in the middle of a forest and brings her up as her own child, Rapunzel's long flowing locks able to restore her youth once more. The King and Queen are distraught at their loss, and every year on their daughter's birthday the whole kingdom releases lanterns into the sky as a reminder of their missing princess. Rapunzel grows up in the tower, her 'mother' refusing to let her visit the outside world. She is a slave to her hobbies, talks only to a frog and is becoming increasingly drawn to the lanterns outside her window and what they mean. Then one day a chance encounter with runaway thief Flynn Rider offers her the chance of a dream come true: to escape the tower and see the lanterns for herself.

Tangled feels like the last 20 years of Disney's catalogue has been erased, and this follows on from the genius of The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin (yes, argue The Lion King all you want, but it WASN'T a fairy tale and it was about ANIMALS). Part of that is down to the returning presence of studio musical legend Alan Menken, who composed the songs for the golden three above. Whilst The Princess and the Frog was all about the smooth jazzy grooves of New Orleans, Tangled is very much back in fantasy land with songs to match - hilarious ensemble pieces such as 'I've Got A Dream', soaring individual numbers like Rapunzel's 'When Will My Life Begin', and jaunty menacing tunes - 'Mother Knows Best'. They're not show stealers, but then again, were the likes of Belle, Part of Your World and Prince Ali when we first heard them? Probably not.

The film also reminded me countless times of those 'golden three': Beauty and The Beast in the Snuggly Duckling, Aladdin when Flynn is escaping the palace guards, The Little Mermaid cannot fail to appear in people's minds when Flynn and Rapunzel are on the boat leaning in for a first kiss as the lanterns swoop around them.

But better than the music is the script which is just flat out terrific. It captures all the charm and schmaltz of a Disney love story, with the whip smart dialogue of Pixar - and amazingly it comes from the team behind Bolt! Who knew they had this sort of potential in them? (Granted writer Dan Fogelman also wrote Cars, but the directing team - definitely Bolt) So funny - the kind of funny that appeals to kids and adults alike. And not just visual gags: Rapunzel's ups and downs as she excels in freedom and then feels horribly nasty to have left her mother was just priceless! Maximus - part horse part dog - was absolutely hilarious too in his bickering with Flynn - so gruffly obnoxious!

Flynn (Zachary Levi) and Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) were just the perfect couple as well - though at times I thought Flynn came across as a little effeminate and annoying, he actually reminded me of Aladdin in quite a lot of ways - a puffed up version of himself hiding the genuine heart underneath. But Rapunzel was sweet and spirited and an utter treat all the way through (the girl always seems to outshine the guy in a Disney film). But the best character? Mother Gothel. For once a truly, truly evil and scary villain which takes us back to the black magic of Maleficent and the cruel stepmother in Snow White (though she reminded me of Ursula from The Little Mermaid the most). There were some scenes where she was even on the verge of making me jump, I can't imagine how a poor little tyke might feel! And watching it as an adult also allowed me to tap into the much darker tones of the film: child abduction, imprisonment, blackmail - of course it will all work out fine in the end, but as it's going on it still makes you squirm in your seat a little bit. What a glorious baddie.

There were parts which were a little eye-rolling: the secret suns in all of her paintings! When Flynn cuts off her magical hair so she can be free and it falls into a perfect choppy bob! (I did love that though) But all in all it was nothing you couldn't expect from Disney, and the "you're my dream now" - sob, sob, sob. It was also very upsetting when the King and Queen shed tears before they release the lanterns, and I had to hold it together when they're reunited at the end. There's something about the way the studio can tap into your most base, childhood insecurities and fears and open up the floodgates. Tangled does this perfectly, yet still manages to end on a giggle: "and after many many years of asking, I finally said yes," quips Flynn Rider.

Already I want to go and see it again. The 3D element - apart from the lanterns scene - once more failed to live up to the price, but on DVD this is going to remain a fantastic, family film. If you're a bit of an overgrown child like myself you've probably already watched and loved Tangled, but for all the cynics out there who think this is just another run of the mill animation - THINK AGAIN.

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